Town’s fiscal health shows in audit report

No alarms bells were set off by the auditors’ report.

The town brought in more money than it spent in the last fiscal year, and independent auditors judge the town’s financial books for 2015-16 to be accurate.

That’s the bottom line for Ridgefield’s 2015-16 fiscal year — from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016 — as reviewed by the auditing firm BlumShapiro. The report includes the town, schools and library.

“The overview is that the town of Ridgefield is in good financial condition,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

Finance Board Chairman Dave Ulmer said nothing problematic concerning the way the town keeps its books showed up in the 2015-16 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

“It found (as usual) that there were no accounting issues and that our CAFR numbers are affirmed not to have any material defects and that they accurately reflect the condition of the town,” Ulmer said.

Paid almost $80,000 for the audit report, BlumShapiro said the town’s books look good.

The firm’s opinion is part of a 100-page report available on the Board of Finance section of town’s website.

Ulmer said the town underspent its nearly $135-million 2015-16 budget by $1,145,000 — with savings from both town departments and the schools.

“FY 16 was a good year due to substantial cost savings of $862,000 on the town side, pretty much across the board, including legal, police, fire, highway, and general government,” Ulmer said. “The schools returned $283,000.”

Things looked good on the revenue side, boosted by back taxes that delinquent property owners paid up as Tax Collector Jane Berendsen Hill prepared for November’s tax sale.

“Revenues exceeded budget by $1,460,000, due largely to collection of back taxes,” Ulmer said.

In putting together the 2015-16 budget, the finance board reduced the tax increase by designating as revenue $1,850,000, to be taken out of the roughly $14-million fund balance —  a fund of accumulated surpluses that haven’t been spent and function as a rainy day fund, something like a family’s savings account.

As a result of the strong revenue performance, the town didn’t need to spend any of that $1,850,000 that shows as “use of fund balance” in the budget’s list of revenue sources.

And the fund balance got a little bigger.

“Our unassigned fund balance as of June 30, 2016, was just over $14 million, up $800,000 from June 30, 2015,” Ulmer said.

The finance board has a policy to maintain the fund balance at about 8% to 9% of the total annual budget. It’s grown a little beyond that, at over $14 million.

“That is above the finance board’s guideline of 8% to 9% by about one percentage point and will be available to offset ongoing cuts in state aid and reduce tax increases in FY 18,” Umer said.

Many towns keep a fund balance that represents a larger percentage of their annual budget than Ridgefield does.

In his budget presentation last May, First Selectman Marconi showed a list of 11 nearby towns and their fund balances as percentages of an annual budget. It ranged from Weston’s 15.4% to Fairfield’s 7.2%, with Ridgefield ninth of the 11, at 8.6%.

Marconi said the big ratings agencies that analyze town finances don’t have a problem with the 8% to 9% fund balance because Ridgefield is in control of its finances.

“Our fund balance is where the Board of Finance policy has continued to maintain it, at that level of 8% to 9%,” Marconi said. “When we do see increases in the fund balance we will use it and give it back to the people, and the following year’s mill rate will be reduced.”